Divrei Torah

PARSHAS VAYIGASH 5778

After finding out that Yosef was still alive and the viceroy of Egypt, Ya’akov took his entire family down to Egypt. The Torah lists the members of Ya’akov’s family and gives us their number as seventy. The commentators immediately notice a discrepancy. If you count the names of the family members, there are only 69 listed. So, since everything in the Torah has significance, what is the number 70 when there were only 69 people?

There are various answers suggested by the commentators. Rashi quotes the answer from the Talmud that the 70th person was Yocheved, the daughter of Levi. She was not yet alive when the family traveled, so she is not mentioned by name.  However, she was born as the family of Ya’akov entered Egypt. Therefore, she counts as the 70th person.

The Ibn Ezra presents a difficulty with this explanation. Yocheved was the mother of Moshe. The Jewish people were in Egypt for 210 years. Moshe was 80 when they left Egypt. By simple mathematics, that means Yocheved was 130 when Moshe was born, which is a greater miracle than Sarah giving birth to Yitzchak at the age of 90! Needless to say, the Ibn Ezra does not agree with the explanation of Rashi. The Ibn Ezra says that the 70th person is Ya’akov. He was the head of the family and was responsible for bringing everybody with him to Egypt.

Rabbeinu Asher – the Rosh – explains that the Torah sometimes rounds numbers that complete a unit. We find this idea regarding the counting of the Omer. The Torah says to count 50 days, which is really 49. Regarding administering lashes for certain crimes, the Torah says to give 40, which is really 39. It is the same matter here. The Torah says 70, when it is really 69.

These are three solutions to the problem and we can derive a lesson from each one.

Rashi says the 70th was Yocheved. Rashi would also have to deal with the fact of Yocheved giving birth to Moshe at 130. A possible solution would be that the first time a great miracle occurs, everybody senses that it is something special. After that, it is also miraculous. However, to us it seems rather mundane. For example, the first time the stock market went up 100 points in a day was miraculous. Now, it is not unusual. So, it seems rather mundane when, in reality, it still is miraculous. The same can be said in our matter. The Torah places emphasis on Sarah giving birth at 90. But, once it happened, Yocheved giving birth at 130 does not seem so special, even though we must realize that it is also miraculous.

The same is true in everyday life. We take many things for granted . . . eating, clothing, walking, shoes, standing, sight, the ability to go to the bathroom and many more daily functions. However, we have seen many cases that should send us the message not to take these things for granted. They are really miraculous. We have a series of Brachos that we say every morning recognizing this fact. So, this perhaps is the lesson from Rashi – that we should recognize the hand of G-d and the miracle behind mundane matters. We should not take anything for granted.

The Ibn Ezra’s explanation – Ya’akov was the 70th person - also teaches us a lesson – don’t forget from where we come. Give the proper honor and respect to those who are responsible for us being where we are, and what we are. Ya’akov was the patriarch of his family. The 70 were the family of Ya’akov. He developed the family. So, it might not be necessary to mention him by name in the list, but he is really at the top of the list. We should apply that lesson to our own lives and give the proper recognition for the good that others have done for us. 

The third explanation mentioned was that of the Rosh – the Torah rounds 69 to 70. There is also an idea behind this. Although G-d is perfect and His Torah is perfect, in Parshas Bereishis, the Torah is called “The Book of Man” - a book written by G-d to describe man and man is not perfect. We all have flaws . . . we all have faults. Not everything has to be exactly right. We can’t get everything exactly right. Many times, we are off by a bit, but that is ok. If you get a 90 on a test, that is also a good score. The lesson from the Rosh is that we must do our best at being Jewish. We might not get it perfect, but if we try and do it well, that is also good. We are showing that we care about the Jewish people and being Jewish. 

So, three lessons that we can learn from the count of Ya’akov’s family are 1) to remember that G-d is behind even the mundane matters in life, 2) proper recognition to those who help us, and 3) try our best, even though we might not be perfect.

These three matters can go a long way in developing a person and the Jewish people.